Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia, a small country located in northern Europe with a population of around 1.3 million people. The capital itself has around 400 000 inhabitants. But despite its size, the country and its capital is moving towards a cleaner and more progressive approach towards transportation.

In the summer of 2012 Estonia started to work on a public charging network for electric vehicles – with an easy subscription-based payment method for its users. After building fast-charging stations in every city and larger village, Estonia became the first country to offer a nation-wide charging network for electric vehicles last year. That very same year, in 2013, Tallinn introduced free public transportation to all of its residents and thus became the European “capital of free public transport”. Today, Tallinn still holds the crown as the largest city in the world to have free public transport.

The authorities in Tallinn believed that a free public transport scheme would boost economic development, encourage people to shift from cars to buses and trams and thus cut congestion and traffic emissions. Now one year on, what exactly are the results?

Free public transport stopped a downward trend

The public transportation system in Tallinn consists of buses, trams, trolley buses and commuter trains. Tallinn's system of about 480 public transport vehicles serves around 400 000 people, making it one of the largest systems in Europe.

Public transport share was at around 40 percent before the scheme was introduced. That was even then a relatively high level compared to other European cities. The ticket costs were also fairly cheap, and pensioners and youths already benefited from free public transport in the city. Despite all this the public transport share was on the decline and had shown a negative trend for two decades.

But since the introduction of the fare-free scheme there have been a 12.6 percent increase in travels. And less wealthy neighborhoods in Tallinn has seen an even bigger increase. So in spite of initial worries the scheme has clearly been successful in persuading more people to use public transportation.

Strong public support

One popular argument against free public transport schemes is that the quality of the service and the comfort for passengers would take a substantial hit. But according to passenger surveys people in Tallinn feel differently. For the people of Tallinn, public transportation travel has become better and more convenient since the introduction of the free-fare scheme. But the increased passenger satisfaction is also the result of investments made in new and modern buses as well as a new electrified rail line on a previously neglected link. Tallinn has also increased the service frequency and designated more priority lanes for buses in the city, which no doubt has further increased the satisfaction.

The free-fare scheme in Tallinn is the result of a referendum which was held in 2012. In the referendum 75.5 percent voted for the scheme, and 24.5 percent voted against. Back then several political parties were skeptical to the idea of free public transport. Many politicians believed that it would be too expensive or simply unfeasible to accomplish. But the idea of a free-fare scheme had a strong public support, and thanks to the result in the referendum the scheme was approved. Today no one wants to abolish the scheme – that’s how successful it has been. Allan Alaküla, head of Tallinn’s European Union Office in Brussels, says there has been a “political shift” for free public transport. There is now “no party promising to abolish the free ride for Tallinners,” he says.


The photo shows a tram in Tallinn, Estonia. Photo credit: Greta Tamošiunaite (cc).

Economic costs and benefits

The introduction of free public transportation was no hasty decision. The various costs and potential benefits had been carefully assessed and debated.

Before the free-fare scheme the city's annual public transportation budget was €53 million. But revenues from ticket sales amounted to only €17 million, of which €5 million came from people living outside Tallinn. The public transport system clearly didn’t pay for its own costs.

By introducing free transport in Tallinn, the city expected incur an additional cost of €12 million – which mainly represents the loss of revenue from ticket sales (tourists and people living outside Tallinn still have to pay for their tickets). City officials deemed this to be a reasonable price to pay, especially when considered against the potential environmental, economic and social benefits of such a scheme.

City officials believe that the free-fare scheme has resulted in an economic boost for the local businesses in Tallinn. “We really provide an incentive for stimulation of the local economy,” says Alaküla. “We observed already that people tend to spend more if their mobility is free. They go out more in the evenings and weekends.”

There has also been other, more major economic benefits. Between January and November 2013, officials reported that around 10 000 new residents had been registered in the city (the latest numbers show 15 000 new residents). This was a number which was significantly higher than previous time periods. It’s therefore presumed that the increase is mainly a result of the free-fare scheme. Each additional 1000 residents provides the city with €1 million in tax revenue. So the new tax revenues help cover a large part of the additional costs of the free-fare scheme. And with an estimated 30 000 unregistered residents in Tallinn there is a huge potential for even more tax revenues.

Environmental and social benefits

A fare-free public transport obviously helps improve accessibility and mobility for a city’s residents – especially for economically disadvantaged people. It’s harder, and still too early, to quantify the long-term environmental benefits of free public transport. But even here one can imagine some obvious positive results as people shift away from cars, leading to less pollution and congestion.

Traffic congestion was down 15 percent during the first quarter of 2013, compared to levels at the end of 2012. Overall, car use throughout Tallinn has been reduced by 9 percent. Alongside the free-fare scheme, parking-fees in the city was increased sharply to further discourage the use of cars.

It’s expected that the free-fare scheme will result in a reduction of CO2 emissions by 45 000 tons every year. Another benefit is a decrease in noise pollution when less cars are on the roads and electric public transport vehicles - trolley buses and trams – are introduced. Dedicated bus lanes also help to make the traffic move more smoothly around the city. It also has the added benefit of decreasing the average trip length by 10 percent, making people get to their destination much faster than before.

After one year, free public transport has been a success in Tallinn. The free-fare scheme has stopped a downward trend for the city’s public transportation system and encouraged more people to leave their cars at home. The experiment in Tallinn has been so successful that other Estonian municipalities are now also interested in introducing similar free-fare schemes for its own residents. The results in Tallinn are also encouraging because it might help speed up plans for similar free public transportation schemes in other major cities, in Europe and around the world. Tallinn acts as a successful, full-scale real-world example that free public transport is possible and that it can have substantial social, environmental and economic benefits for a city.
For a while, Dr. Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of natural resources and ecology & evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, was relatively optimistic. There was a time when he believed that, if modern industrial society were to suddenly cease to operate, the planet could be saved. Not any more, he says. Planet Earth is now in hospice, nearing the end.

Waiting to hear him speak, the atmosphere in the East Auditorium at the University of Rhode Island is festive, almost jubilant. Everyone is smiling and gregariously introducing themselves to me. Though most of us aren't scientists, there is an unconscious letting down of our guard: we are among our own. No matter the origin of our disparate backgrounds, we all believe that climate change is real, and that human beings are the primary cause. There is electricity in the air and everyone is excited.

I make the rounds and meet Patricia Hval, the humble curator of the Babcock-Smith House Museum in Westerly, R.I. Though not a URI faculty member, she is responsible for McPherson's presence here tonight. She had originally invited him to speak in Westerly but couldn't find a venue, so she organized a URI event along with Dr. Peter Nightingale, whom I finally meet in the flesh after some email correspondence.
Peter is a slight, elderly Dutchman with quick vibrant movements and an infectious smile - like so many others tonight (including our speaker) he exudes charisma. He is a physicist, and though he doesn't agree with McPherson's specific prognosis, his views on climate change are uncompromising. In our telephone conversations, he voices frustration at the meager efforts of world governments to curb carbon emissions. He makes an apt analogy with Dick Cheney's "one percent doctrine": If there is even a 1 percent chance of a terrorist attack, then the United States must do everything in its power to stop it. Why then, Nightingale asks, is the same logic not applied to climate change, which has a statistically predictable trajectory and the potential to kill many more people than any other threat?

Nightingale opens up the lecture with a song on his ukulele. The anthem is called "Fight For Fossil Free!" and we all have lyric sheets. Soon I am singing along with everyone else in the packed auditorium. The energy of the crowd is palpable. McPherson steps up to the podium and makes his case. He'd an odd duck, splendidly dressed, and it's hard to take your eyes off him. He is dressed in well worn leather dress shoes, '90s Carhart pants and a slick blazer, and has perhaps the goofiest haircut I've ever seen in my life. There is something strangely dashing about him, a streak of Indiana Jones. He is positively arresting.

Guy McPherson believes that life on Earth will more or less be extinct by the year 2060, and the evidence he presents is compelling and well sourced. Of the creatures that may live, mankind is not among them. We'll run out of food and water. We'll be swept away by typhoons, and freeze in winter storms of unusual intensity. We'll dry in the sun, and our mummified remains will break apart in sandstorms, our disintegrated body matter swirling around like dervishes of dust. Now, Guy didn't actually use any of these morbid descriptions, but that is where my mind went after hearing the overwhelming amount of factual information that he presented. If he's a flake, as some have accused him of being, then he is the most learned and exhaustively conclusive flake I've ever met.

We've known for a very long time that climate change is real, and that it has been specifically caused by the burning of fossil fuels. The first scientific paper linking the two was released in 1847. That's right, I said 1847. Media blackouts, apparently, are nothing new.

McPherson believes that the effects of climate change are exponentially progressive and irreversible based on two factors: the lag of the effect of carbon emissions, which is about 40 years, and consequently the creation of self-reinforcing feedback loops. So what does that all mean? Well, it means that we are reaping the fruits of 1970s carbon emissions.

But surely emissions have decreased, right? No. Not even close. Worse, there is no sign that emissions are even slowing down, much less reversing.

2009, the onset of the the Second Great Depression Great Recession, set a new record for carbon released by humans into the atmosphere. This record has been consecutively broken every year since. This is where the self-reinforcing feedback loops come into play. There are many of them, but I'll start with one that I understand as a layman: the release of methane over cold regions.

Permafrost contains copious amounts of methane, which is now being released into the atmosphere as the permafrost melts. Though methane dissipates in the atmosphere at a faster pace than carbon, its heating effects are far greater. So as more methane is released, more permafrost melts, releasing more methane. .. get it? But the methane will just break up in the atmosphere and the crisis will be over, right? No. The warming will affect the whole planet, destroying natural heat sinks such as rainforests, leading to the release of even more methane.

McPherson shows us an authentic photo of Siberian children roasting marshmallows over a methane fissure in Siberia. It's a small crack in the Earth, and some industrious youngster has lit it on fire. But they no longer light the fissures on fire, because the cracks are now a kilometer wide. No major news agency reported it.

If the prognosis on Earth's condition is so grim, then why bother reporting it? McPherson uses the analogy of medical malpractice. If your doctor examines you and concludes that you have six months to live, McPherson asks, wouldn't you like to know the truth? Those in the scientific community and elsewhere who minimize the impending calamity and totality of climate change are committing malpractice by withholding this crucial and pertinent information from us. The Earth is in hospice, and the prognosis is grim.

I pray to God that he's wrong.

This article was first published in People's World by Jonathan W. Pressman.
The Keystone pipeline proposal has hit a Nebraska stop sign, but it has deeper problems than right-of-way issues across the United States. After all, the controversial proposal for transporting Canada's tar sands was never just about the pipeline. Just ask the thousand students who rallied in front of the White House recently and were willing to be arrested to make their point.

Frustrated and angry over a lack of political action on climate change, our Millennial Generation is not tolerating an ineffectual Congress or president. This 18-34 year old group in the United States is 74 million strong and when the worst happens will suffer the most from climate change. With little representation in Congress, where the average age is 60, they are looking to civil disobedience as a strategy to create the political will to address this threat. This will happen not only in our nation's capitol but on the streets of major cities across the nation.

The fight over Keystone is really about a generational shift in our energy paradigm and how we will survive the 21st century. It concerns the wealth and jobs that the fossil fuels industry creates, how it has weaved itself into all of our lives and pulled us into a formidable dependency. With a growing foreboding, however, we are sensing our carbon lifestyle may be lethal to future generations and if they are to survive it is incumbent on us to accelerate efforts to develop other energy sources.

From Washington, D.C. and Nebraska courts, this conflict now swings to Canada, where the Alberta government owns 81 percent of its oil sands and has a long list of investment partners. Besides multinational corporations, one of its biggest sources of investment capital for mining is China, our planet's largest producer of greenhouse gases. Alberta looks to collect $1.2 trillion in royalties from its oil sands over the next 35 years, but has increasingly drawn the world's attention because of the massive girth of pollution from the mining and burning of bitumen tar.

Canada also faces a disenfranchised youth, who feel their voices and futures have been diminished by the enormous profits bitumen tar sands portend. They are joined by First Nations aboriginal tribes who share the same political paucity and frustration. Despite the economic benefits of bitumen tar mining on their lands, First Nations people are taking a grim view of irreversible health and cultural damage. It is a seminal decision for First Nations to continue its relationship with Canadian oil interests and on a larger scale, analogous with our world's factious accord on reducing the role of fossil fuels in our lives.

The world's climate scientists essentially agree that if left unchecked, anthropogenic CO2 will worsen extreme weather, raise sea levels and create mass extinctions from a profuse array of environmental changes. Many acknowledge that climate deniers are fed propagated ignorance by fossil fuel strategists as part of a misinformation campaign, creating a set of beliefs not easily changed. It creates a polarized electorate, leaving the issue to develop worst-case scenarios before action is taken.

In moderation, fossil fuel usage might not have posed a serious threat, but we have moved well past that threshold. Our burning of fossil fuels produces around 33.4 billion metric tons of CO2 per year and world energy needs are expected to rise about 40 percent over the next 20 years. CO2 has reached proportions in our atmosphere not seen for about 15 million years and many scientists warn it may already be too late to mitigate damages.

There is a way forward. In time, renewables can generate jobs lost in the fossil fuels industry and will sustain our lifestyles. We can consider Generation IV nuclear energy, reportedly much safer than existing technology. Some strategists look to a carbon fee and dividend system that can increase the viability of new renewable energy sources, as well as a carbon import tax on products from other countries.

As Keystone falters and tar sands mining provokes mounting protests, our nation is compelled to end political bickering and accede Millennials a more powerful voice on climate legislation. President Obama must grasp the significance of this moment, deny the Keystone permit and tell the world his decision has nothing to do with the pipeline and everything to do with leadership.

This opinion piece was written by Jeffrey Meyer, a writer and volunteer for 350.org and Citizens Climate Lobby.
British Columbia's controversial annual spring grizzly bear hunt began on Apr. 1, with an estimated 1,800 hunting authorizations being issued - one of the highest numbers in recent years. Grizzlies, which are considered "threatened" by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, do not have the population numbers that black bears do, and activists including conservation groups, animal rights supporters, and First Nation tribe members have serious qualms about the hunting of these bears for pure sport.

This year's grizzly hunt lasts until the end of May, and is followed by an autumn hunt that takes place Oct. 1 through mid-November. On average, about 300 of these bears are killed by hunters per year, but that number might increase from an uptick in hunting authorizations. The Canadian province where the activity will take place is home to about a quarter of the remaining North American grizzly population.

Robert Johnson and Jason Moody, two brothers from the Heiltsuk First Nation, recalled commonly seeing a grizzly bear while working as field technicians in a coastal estuary, flanked by what was known as the Great Bear Rainforest. The young male bear, whom they nicknamed "Cheeky," would follow them around from a distance, often poking his head out at them and sticking out his tongue. The brothers were also there on the day that Cheeky was shot to death by a big-game trophy hunter. The bear's killer, Clayton Stoner, skinned Cheeky and took his hide. He chopped off Cheeky's head and paws.

Though the brothers arrived too late to stop the hunt, they did find Cheeky's mangled remains, which had been left there to rot. "I was devastated," said Moody. "I had hoped to save his life." He and his brother, he said, had developed quite a bond with the bear, who had a playful curiosity and friendliness. Johnson remarked that during their time there, "We started talking with Cheeky, telling him what we were doing there. We got to know him quite well, to the point we could go in our boat and get off and walk around in the area without having to worry about him."

Stoner kept the bear as a trophy, even balancing the animal's severed head on his knee and posing for a photo. Brothers Johnson and Moody, meanwhile, returned to their research camp near the estuary and wept for the loss of their friend.
This is merely a single example of what is increasingly being viewed across Canada as a moral atrocity, and British Columbia is now seriously debating the continuation of grizzly trophy hunts. Thirteen years ago in April, a moratorium on the hunt was enacted, but quickly overturned within months.

On Feb. 15, protesters gathered at the B.C. legislature buildings in the provincial capital of Victoria, demanding a permanent province wide ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting. And they posed their argument not merely in moral terms, but in economic terms as well, noting that over 11,000 tourists came to Canada to visit the bears in 2012, and contributed $9.54 million to the GDP. Trophy hunting, on the other hand, only generated $0.7 million that year.

Chelsea Turner, daughter of British Columbian wildlife filmmakers Jeff and Sue Turner, spoke at the demonstration, remarking, "I realized that when we go out on location to film this spring, it will be the same time the spring trophy hunt begins. It's just appalling to me. It breaks my heart to think that one day we're working with these bears and shooting them with our cameras, and the next day trophy hunters can show up and shoot them with their high-powered rifles. This is completely the wrong direction that we're moving in."

Biologist Paul Paquet of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation said grizzlies could be too few in numbers to risk a trophy hunt at this time. "The real numbers could be somewhere as low as 6,000 or as high as 18,000," he said. "We just don't know." But the real question he said, is, "is this ethical, to be hunting bears? That's really what's at issue. This is a trophy hunt, as opposed to a hunt for food."

And according to First Nation members, these big game hunters are not doing anything particularly brave, difficult, or admirable. The bears in the area are accustomed to seeing people, due to tourism, and thus do not fear guns - until it's too late. Doug Neasloss of the Kitasoo/Xai'xais Nation suggested it isn't so much a hunt as it is senseless slaughter. When asked whether a grizzly is hard to catch, Neasloss replied, "No. My grandmother could shoot a grizzly."

This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
IPCC, the UN’s expert panel on climate change, released part three of their new global warming study yesterday. The new report says that the world’s current efforts to combat global warming are not sufficient if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change.

If we are to keep global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius cap recommended by scientists, emissions from CO2 and other greenhouse gases must drop by 40 to 70 percent by 2050 – and drop even further to near-zero by the end of the century. To accomplish this, the world needs to urgently switch to clean and renewable energy. Clean energy sources will need to triple and completely dominate world energy by 2050, the IPCC report concludes. But the direct opposite is currently happening. World emissions of various greenhouse gases are increasing. Between 2000 and 2010, average global emissions rose by 2.2 percent every year – reaching “unprecedented levels” of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere. Increasing carbon emissions are largely due to an increasing demand for energy and a rising coal use in countries such as China.

“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, one of three co-chairs of the IPCC working group.
We need to end the current dominance of coal, oil and gas and replace them with cleaner and more renewable energy sources. But this is a daunting – and unprecedented – task when fossil fuels currently provide more than 80 percent of the world’s total energy production.

“We can only avoid catastrophic climate change if we reduce our dependency on fossil fuels – we're already on track for four degrees warming, which will be impossible for human society to adapt to,” said Friends of the Earth's executive director Andy Atkins in a response to the new IPCC report. “We have the technology to prevent dangerous climate change. What we lack is the political will of our leaders to strongly champion renewable power and energy efficiency.”

So-called CCS technologies, which capture and bury carbon emissions is one way to produce low-carbon energy. But the IPCC experts notes that this technology is not feasible as it “has not yet been applied at a large, commercial scale.” Gas could be important in the “short-term”, during the transition, but only if it replaces coal. One low-carbon energy option is nuclear power. But the IPCC report notes that nuclear “has been declining since 1993” and voices concern about potential safety risks, “nuclear weapon proliferation risks, waste management security as well as financial and regulatory risks.”

The big emphasis in the IPCC report is on renewable energy sources and technologies, such as solar and wind power, but also energy efficiency and conservation. The IPCC report acknowledges how much renewable energy technologies have advanced since 2007. Since the last major IPCC study, “many [renewable energy] technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions, and a growing number of [renewable energy] technologies have achieved a level of maturity to enable deployment at significant scale,” the report says. “Regarding electricity generation alone, [renewable energy] accounted for just over half of the new electricity generating capacity added globally in 2012, led by growth in wind, hydro and solar power.”

But renewable energy and various implementations against energy waste requires substantial long-term investments. And here’s the good news from the new IPCC report: a global roll-out of clean and renewable energy is remarkably cheap – but only if we act now.

The investment required to green our global energy system would only result in a 0.06% reduction of off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3%, the IPCC report concludes. Read that again. It would only cost us 0.06% of annual economic growth to save the climate and make sure there will be a livable planet for future generations as well. That’s nothing. But only if we act now. “We cannot afford to lose another decade,” warned German economist Ottmar Edenhofer, a co-chair of the IPCC committee. “If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.”

Considering that the world spends over half a trillion dollars every year to subsidize fossil fuels – about six times more than the global investment into renewable energy – there is clearly room to divest and divert money from fossil fuels into renewable energy.

And a transition towards clean and renewable energy would also result in health benefits, as professor Nicholas Stern notes. “The transition to sustainable low-carbon economic development and growth is an opportunity not just to avoid potentially catastrophic climate risks, but also to reap other benefits from cleaner and more efficient technologies, such as reductions in local air pollution,” Stern said.

“There is only plan A: collective action to reduce emissions now,” EU commissioner Connie Hedegaard said. “The more you wait, the more it will cost. The more you wait, the more difficult it will become.” And US Secretary of State John Kerry agrees with that sentiment: “Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. […] Waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic,” he said.

“We stand at a fork in road,” said Li Shuo, Greenpeace East Asia's climate and energy campaigner. “One way leads to more dependence on dwindling fossil fuels that are wrecking our climate and damaging our health; the other to a world powered by a booming clean energy sector that is already driving growth and creating jobs. The sooner we act, the cheaper it will be.”

The IPCC study, titled Mitigation of climate change, is the last report of three IPCC working groups. The previous reports have looked at the current state of climate science and the impacts of unchecked climate change. This report was produced by 1250 international experts and has been approved by 194 governments.
At the end of 2013, the wind farms installed in more than 85 countries had a combined generating capacity of 318,000 megawatts, which would be enough to meet the residential electricity needs of the European Union’s 506 million people. New data from the Global Wind Energy Council show that wind developers built 35,000 megawatts of new generating capacity worldwide in 2013. This was down from 45,000 megawatts installed in 2012—marking only the second time in 25 years that installed capacity increased by less than it did the year before.

The principal reason for the decline in new capacity was a more than 90 percent drop in U.S. wind farm installations from a record 13,000 megawatts in 2012. Although the United States has the second-highest wind power capacity in the world—some 61,000 megawatts—a lack of long-term policy planning has led to several such boom-and-bust cycles.

Despite the dearth of new capacity, there were many bright spots for U.S. wind power in 2013. Wind accounted for at least 12 percent of the electricity generated in nine states, including Iowa (27 percent) and South Dakota (26 percent). Iowa will get another boost from a $1.9 billion deal announced in December 2013: Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Company purchased Siemens turbines totaling more than 1,000 megawatts, all destined for Iowa wind projects. When complete in 2015, these wind farms will likely bring the wind share of electricity in Iowa to at least 33 percent.

Wind’s contribution to the grid is also growing in Texas, the U.S. wind capacity leader with 12,400 megawatts. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas reports that wind farms produced nearly 10 percent of the electricity delivered to its 24 million customers in 2013. And with the early-2014 completion of state-funded transmission projects linking windy West Texas and the Panhandle to population centers to the east, Texas can accommodate even more clean electricity on the grid. The state has 7,000 megawatts of new wind power capacity under construction, more than half of the 12,000 megawatts currently being built nationwide.

China has led the world in installed capacity since surpassing the United States in 2010. In contrast to the drop in U.S. installations in 2013, China’s wind construction accelerated—adding 16,000 megawatts to reach a total 91,000 megawatts. Wind further solidified its role as the number three electricity source in China (behind coal and hydropower), out-generating nuclear power by an impressive 22 percent. The National Energy Administration aims to make wind-generated electricity cost-competitive with coal by 2020. (See data.)

As in Texas and many other places around the world, some of China’s best wind resources are found far from major cities where electricity demand is high. High-voltage transmission lines now under construction will connect wind-rich provinces in the north and west with more populous ones in the central and eastern provinces. For example, one project linking remote Xinjiang province to the 4 million people in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, was completed in early 2014. Infrastructure projects such as this one will be critical in reaching the official Chinese goal of 200,000 megawatts of grid-connected wind capacity by 2020.

India, the country with the fifth-highest amount of installed capacity, added 1,700 megawatts in 2013 to cross the 20,000 megawatt threshold. Although this was 25 percent less new capacity than in 2012, India is poised to grow its wind power base dramatically in the coming years. In January 2014, the government announced a National Wind Energy Mission—in the spirit of the country’s National Solar Mission—to be launched mid-year. By beefing up the grid and using incentives to attract investment to wind hotspots, the program aims to hit 100,000 megawatts of wind within eight years.

Development is picking up elsewhere in Asia as well. In Pakistan, wind power capacity doubled to 100 megawatts in 2013 and will double again when two 50-megawatt projects go online in 2014. Thailand also doubled its wind capacity in 2013, reaching 220 megawatts. And the Philippines has seven projects due for completion in 2014 that will expand wind capacity there 13-fold to 450 megawatts.

Before China’s recent surge, Europe was the leading wind power region. Germany, which added 3,200 megawatts in 2013, ranks third worldwide in total capacity, with 34,000 megawatts. Four of its northern states regularly get half or more of their electricity from wind farms.

When it comes to wind’s contribution to national electricity needs, European countries top the leaderboard. Denmark gets one third of its electricity from wind, well on its way to a target of 50 percent by 2020. Portugal, Lithuania, Spain, and Ireland come in at around 20 percent each. In fact, wind came within a percentage point of beating nuclear power for the title of Spain’s number one electricity source in 2013. And Germany, Europe’s largest economy, obtained 8 percent of its electricity from wind farms.
While some of the larger European wind power markets, including Spain, Italy, and France, have slowed down, smaller players are speeding up. Poland and Romania each expanded their wind power capacity by 36 percent in 2013, to 3,400 and 2,600 megawatts, respectively. And in Turkey, even though the approval process for projects is slow, wind capacity grew by 28 percent to nearly 3,000 megawatts.

One region with enormous wind potential but little development so far is Latin America. Brazil, best known for getting 80 percent of its electricity from large hydropower, hosts the most wind power capacity in the region—now close to 3,500 megawatts after a 950-megawatt addition in 2013. At government auctions, wind companies have won more than half of all contracts to sell electricity since 2011, according to Bloomberg data. Some 10,000 megawatts of wind may be installed in Brazil between 2014 and 2019. Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay also added wind power in 2013.

In all of Africa, just one project added capacity in 2013. The final 90 megawatts of Ethiopia’s 120-megawatt Ashegoda Wind Farm went into operation, more than doubling the country’s wind capacity to 170 megawatts. South Africa has 2,100 megawatts of wind power in the pipeline, including 750 megawatts to be added in 2014 alone.

Offshore projects account for just over 2 percent of the wind capacity installed worldwide. Having hit a seventh straight annual installation record in 2013, however, offshore wind is growing fast. More than half of the 7,100 megawatts of offshore capacity belongs to the United Kingdom, which installed 730 megawatts in its waters in 2013. Denmark, Germany, and Belgium each added at least 190 megawatts to their totals, while China added 39 megawatts. Both Vietnam and Spain added offshore wind capacity for the first time, as did the United States, although the U.S. project was one very small demonstration turbine off the coast of Maine.

Offshore wind is still one of the more expensive electricity generating technologies, but onshore wind is often highly competitive with coal, natural gas, and nuclear power in areas with strong wind resources. And costs continue to fall as wind manufacturers steadily improve turbine efficiency, harnessing more wind per machine. In the United States, the average price of wind-generated electricity has dropped 40 percent since 2009.

After a slower year in 2013, world wind installations will bounce back in 2014, perhaps to a new record—the Global Wind Energy Council sees the potential for 47,000 megawatts. Roughly half of the total will be built in China and the United States (around three times more in the former than in the latter). This is good news for the wind business, for electricity consumers, and for people who value cleaner air and water. But increasingly dire scientific warnings about the consequences of climate change mean that the world will need to accelerate the shift to carbon-free, renewable sources of energy even more so in the years to come.

By J. Matthew Roney.
A big helium-filled wind-turbine will soon float just south over the city of Fairbanks in Alaska, USA. The floating wind turbine, which is designed and built by Altaeros Energies, will hover at nearly 305 meters up in the sky and generate electricity for more than a dozen families living off the grid.

Airborne wind turbines is nothing new. We wrote about similar wind power technology as early as 2008 with the MARS prototype from Magenn. But this will be the first long-term demonstration of an airborne wind technology. The BAT-Buoyant Airborne Turbine will be in the sky for 18 months, with a total project cost of $1.3 million. Altaeros Energies hopes that BAT-Buoyant Airborne Turbine, and similar wind solutions, will play a role in tackling high energy costs in remote regions such as Alaska.

“We are pleased to work with the Alaska Energy Authority and TDX Power to deploy our flexible, low cost power solution for remote communities,” stated Ben Glass, Altaeros Chief Executive Officer. “The project will generate enough energy to power over a dozen homes.”

There are some obvious advantages with this type of wind turbines. They can be transported and setup in remote locations without the need for large cranes, towers or foundation works which are required for more traditional wind turbines. Despite its floating, kite like design, the airborne wind turbine is able to be used in harsh weather conditions. The wind turbine will also generate substantially less noise and requires very little maintenance. Besides electricity, it can also provide cell service, data coverage (i.e. Wi-Fi) and local weather data.

Because of its high altitude, the BAT-Buoyant Airborne Turbine will be able to catch air currents that are five to eight times stronger than winds closer to the ground. It’s estimated the floating wind turbine design will generate twice the electricity output of its ground-based counterparts. The floating wind turbine will feed energy into the grid through cables that are connected to the ground.



The UN's International Court of Justice has ordered Japan to halt its yearly whale hunt, a cruel practice that gives no consideration to the welfare of the animals. Japan is one of several countries that persisted in this practice after whaling was banned worldwide in 1986, in this case using "scientific research" as an excuse. But there is nothing scientific about whale killing, and the UN has called them out on it.

Currently, Japan's whaling program is killing about 1,000 whales a year under the guise of "scientific purposes." It was Australia that took the matter to the International Court this year, claiming the supposed research was little more than a ruse to circumvent the UN's whaling ban. The presiding judge, Peter Tomka, agreed that Japan's assertion that its whale hunt has a scientific basis is, by and large, false.

"The evidence does not establish that the program's design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives," Tomka remarked. He noted that it failed to justify the brutality of the killings, and that a moratorium on whaling would remain in place for Japan unless and until it could somehow produce a program with an actual basis in scientific research.

Japanese Foreign Ministry official Koji Tsuruoka said Japan will abide by the order. "While Japan is disappointed, it will abide by the judgment of the court as a state that places great importance on the international legal order," he said. However, he added that Japan "regrets and is deeply disappointed by the decision."

Among those who don't share that sentiment are animal rights activists and countries like Australia, who maintain that whale killing is immoral and unethical. Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's whale program, said the court decision is reason to rejoice, and could have an effect on other countries that ignored the UN's moratorium, like Norway and Iceland - two countries that still engage in commercial whaling outright.

"The ruling certainly has implications ultimately for whaling by Iceland and Norway as well," said Ramage. "I think it will increase pressure on those two countries to re-examine their own whaling practices and the various reasons and pretexts given for that whaling activity."

Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said, "The International Court has just acknowledged that what Japan is doing is illegal. Our hope is that Japan can be a nation that loves whales and sees the huge benefit from eco-tourism that Australia does, which was also a nation that used to hunt whales."

Greenpeace writer Tom Ganderton stated, "The news confirms what we've been saying all along: this lethal whaling program is not necessary, and is harmful to the health of our oceans. It's high time this industry was consigned to the history books. The Japanese government claims that whaling is a long-standing part of Japanese culture that the international community should not interfere with. But the Australian government was quick to challenge this idea, as Greenpeace has consistently done in the past. They pointed out that whaling only began there in the 1930s."

Moreover, said Ganderton, "The whale meat industry is dying in Japan. Statistics commissioned by Greenpeace Japan found that up to 80 percent of respondents disagreed with whaling. What's more, thousands of tons of whale meat today remain in frozen storage in Japan because demand is so low.

"We need an end to commercial whaling so we can turn the focus onto some of the big conservation challenges facing the world's remaining whale populations, like climate change and destructive fishing. We won't stop until this dying industry is ended for good."

This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
The effects of global warming will be “severe, pervasive and irreversible” and will leave no one untouched. That is the conclusion of the newly released IPCC report, which scientists and officials say is the most comprehensive study to date on the impacts of climate change. This report is “the most solid evidence you can get in any scientific discipline,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization. Earlier we could, to a certain extent, say that people damaged the Earth’s climate out of “ignorance”. But “now, ignorance is no longer a good excuse,” he said.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said at a news conference in Yokohama, Japan, where the report was presented.

While the world’s natural systems are currently bearing the brunt of climate change, the impact on us humans is expected to grow significantly in the near future, the IPCC report warns. Rising global temperatures will result in more floods and cause changes to crop yields and water availability – effectively threatening our homes, health, food and safety. Or in the words of the report itself: “increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.” We will be able to adapt to some of these changes, but only within certain limits.

In response to the IPCC report, Ed Davey, the UK Energy and Climate Secretary said that “the recent flooding in the UK is a testament to the devastation that climate change could bring to our daily lives.”

“The science has clearly spoken,” Davey said. “Left unchecked, climate change will impact on many aspects of our society, with far reaching consequences to human health, global food security and economic development.”

The IPCC report, which is based on 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies, details both short-term and long-term impacts of global warming. These include threats to natural systems that in turn will have severe effects for humans.

A 2C rise in temperatures would mean a “very high” risk to unique natural systems such as Arctic sea ice and coral reefs. Oceans will become more acidic, which will threaten coral and the species that depend on them. Fish species, that are a critical source of food for many people, will move to new territories because of warmer waters. It is expected that in some parts of the tropics and in Antarctica, potential fish catches could decline by more than 50 percent. Plants, animals and other species on land will also begin to move towards higher grounds, towards the poles as the climate gets warmer and their current habitats changes.

As mentioned earlier, the natural systems will feel the worst impacts first. Humans will be increasingly affected as the century goes on, the IPCC report claims. Highlighted in the report for being a significant concern is food security. Crop yields for rice, wheat and maize are all expected to be taking severe hits leading up to 2050, with projections showing potential losses of over 25 percent in yields. And after 2050, the risk of even more severe impacts on yields increases. At the same time, a rising population estimated at around 9 billion people will increase the demand for food.

“Going into the future, the risks only increase, and these are about people, the impacts on crops, on the availability of water and particularly, the extreme events on people's lives and livelihoods,” said Professor, and co-author of the IPCC report, Neil Adger from the University of Exeter in England.

The IPCC report also raises concerns over human migration due to climate change, as well as increasing risks of conflicts that will pose a threat to national and global security. As climate change worsens, so will society’s current problems. Poverty, violence, sickness, and refugees will all get worse according to the report. Climate change will also slow down the modernization of our society and effectively hampering economic growth, among other things. But although the impacts of climate change will be felt everywhere and hit everyone, the severity won’t affect people equally. Poor people, and developing countries, will feel the impact first and hardest. Climate change is expected to further increase the gaps between rich and poor.

But the rich won’t be able to escape from the realities of global warming. “The rich are going to have to think about climate change,” said Dr Saleemul Huq, a lead author on one of the chapters in the IPCC report. “We're seeing that in the UK, with the floods we had a few months ago, and the storms we had in the US and the drought in California. These are multibillion dollar events that the rich are going to have to pay for.”

Despite all the doom and gloom, the report makes it clear that we still have time to act to limit and adapt to some of the climate changes. In their next report, which will be published on April the 13th, IPCC will discuss what we can do to stop this negative progress. “Climate change is really important but we have a lot of the tools for dealing effectively with it - we just need to be smart about it,” said the IPCC report's chair, Dr Chris Field.
In new estimates released this week, the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2012 around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives.

In particular, the new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischaemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. This is in addition to air pollution’s role in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

The new estimates are not only based on more knowledge about the diseases caused by air pollution, but also upon better assessment of human exposure to air pollutants through the use of improved measurements and technology. This has enabled scientists to make a more detailed analysis of health risks from a wider demographic spread that now includes rural as well as urban areas.

Regionally, low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution.

Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General Family, Women and Children’s Health, said:

“Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents noncommunicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly. Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves.”

Included in the assessment is a breakdown of deaths attributed to specific diseases, underlining that the vast majority of air pollution deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases as follows:

Outdoor air pollution-caused deaths – breakdown by disease:
40% – ischaemic heart disease;
40% – stroke;
11% – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD);
6% – lung cancer; and
3% – acute lower respiratory infections in children.

Indoor air pollution-caused deaths – breakdown by disease:
34% – stroke;
26% – ischaemic heart disease;
22% – COPD;
12% – acute lower respiratory infections in children;
6% – lung cancer.

The new estimates are based on the latest WHO mortality data from 2012 as well as evidence of health risks from air pollution exposures. Estimates of people’s exposure to outdoor air pollution in different parts of the world were formulated through a new global data mapping. This incorporated satellite data, ground-level monitoring measurements and data on pollution emissions from key sources, as well as modelling of how pollution drifts in the air.

Risks factors greater than expected

Dr Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, says:

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes. Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”
After analysing the risk factors and taking into account revisions in methodology, WHO estimates indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in households cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves. The new estimate is explained by better information about pollution exposures among the estimated 2.9 billion people living in homes using wood, coal or dung as their primary cooking fuel, as well as evidence about air pollution’s role in the development of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and cancers.

In the case of outdoor air pollution, WHO estimates there were 3.7 million deaths in 2012 from urban and rural sources worldwide.

Many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution. Due to this overlap, mortality attributed to the two sources cannot simply be added together, hence the total estimate of around 7 million deaths in 2012.

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Green Blog has been online since 2007. We have green news from authors around the world, environment forums and member blogs.

We believe that human and civil rights, global peace, equality and democracy all plays central roles in safeguarding our environment and improving - in a sustainable and non-destructive way - the lives of all people on this fragile planet. Green Blog encourage people to take direct non-violent action against CO2 emitting sources and protest against the current climate change inaction.